I have a passion which many others might quietly share: I am in love with the Mitford girls.

Fit for a Mitford - Kate Winslet. Picture: AP

Such is my passion I have developed a parlour game which some players initially sneer at but soon become obsessed by.

What sisters they were: Dowdy and heroic Jessica, ultra sophisticated Nancy, gloriously beautiful Diana, Unity the tragic Valkyrie, and Pamela who, in Decca’s (Jessica’s) phrase, emerged as ``a you-know-what-bian’’ living with an Italian woman.

Then there is Debo, whom Nancy considered so stupid she referred to her as Nine—her suggested mental age.

She is now Deborah, the dowager Duchess of Devonshire, aged 90, the last of the sisters with us.

Her recently-released book, ``Wait for Me: Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister’‘, is a reminder of the fading family line, and of how brilliantly those women once lived, controversial and energetic figures known across hemispheres from the 1930s to today.

The book also makes clear Debo, as she also was known by her family, sadly will not be with us for much longer and it is time for a Mitford lover to make a film of this extraordinary bunch of women.

Of course it would be all but impossible because of the competing story lines, each one worthy of a film alone if justice were to be done.

Jessica the Communist invented ``muck-raking’’ journalism; Nancy lived in France where she wrote best sellers and had affairs with the powerful; Diana left her aristocratic first husband for British Fascist Oswold Mosley.

Unity adored Adolf Hitler and then attempted suicide when Britain declared war on him; Pamela divorced her scientist husband and spurned male suitors to live with her Italian friend.

And then there was Deborah, whom Jessica accused of setting out to snare a duke, which she did in Andrew Cavendish who soon after became Duke of Devonshire.

Try and wrap that lot up in an hour and a half.

Thus the parlour game, which is built around a more modest objective—casting the Mitford movie.

Once you start, after getting an idea of the personalities of the individual women, it is hard to stop. A common problem is wanting Keira Knightly to play every role, and most people seem to want Katharine Hepburn to play Jessica (actors from all eras and nationalities are eligible).

A bit of lateral thinking is needed. For example, I like Penelope Keith for Pamela, the sister who loved horses and farms more than any of her siblings.

Maggie Smith is the constantly-fagging, regally aloof Nancy. End of discussion.

Cate Blanchett would be a to-die-for Diana, but a sadder and more naive figure would be needed for Unity. I believe Emma Thompson could do it.

Debo could be covered by Helen Mirren, which leaves Decca, the most complex of the six and thus the most difficult to match.

Step forward Kate Winslet. She looks nothing like tiny Jessica, but would be capable of achieving a warm heart with a tough front, a waterfront picketer with an aristocratic English accent.

Hell of a cast. But draw up your own.

Most commented

22 comments

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    • Liz says:

      07:38am | 27/09/10

      Perhaps you need to get out more.

    • Paul says:

      08:19am | 27/09/10

      Perhaps you need to stay in more.

      Jessica: Samantha Morton
      Nancy: Rosamund Pike
      Diana: Keira Knightley
      Unity: Carey Mulligan
      Pamela:  Anna Friel
      Deborah: Emma Watson

      Mosley: Paul Bettany

      There you go; all around the same age, contemporary, British (no Paltrow-Zellweger mockneys), talented.

      Casting is a cinch.  Anyone know a producer?

    • Jackie says:

      05:27pm | 27/09/10

      @ Paul, hasnt Rosamund Pike already played Fanny in the BBC production of Love in A cold Climate a few years ago, she was absolutely perfect for the role of Fanny but I feel Nancy needs a little more edge.

    • bec says:

      07:51am | 27/09/10

      But who for Mosley?

    • Ned says:

      01:44pm | 27/09/10

      Bettany played Silas in The DaVinci Code, but that was the wrong kind of evil for Mosely. How about Johnny Depp? He seems to be able to play anyone with a touch of the ridiculous. If anyone needs to be made look ridiculous, it’s Oswald Mosley.

      BTW, interesting to learn people’s passions outside of their professional lives. The Mitford sisters..who’s have thunk it, Malcom?

    • Don Berk says:

      02:35pm | 27/09/10

      The best (read only) depiction of Mosley I’ve seen was in the TV series Jeeves and Wooster, based on the PG Wodehouse books. The ridiculous Sir Roderick Spode, leader of the “Black Shorts”, is based on Mosley. I don’t know who played him but in any event he was upstaged by a young Fry and Laurie in the title roles.

    • Nancy says:

      11:03am | 27/09/10

      The problem with discussing a thing like this on The Punch is that you need an audience who might have actually read a book.

    • stephen says:

      11:33am | 27/09/10

      Dear, you sound like Unity.

    • bec says:

      07:16pm | 27/09/10

      Too lucid for Unity. Diana, mayhaps?

    • Tegan says:

      11:54am | 27/09/10

      What’s the best book on the Mitfords? I’ve never read one, but I’d like to.

    • Malcolm Farr says:

      01:02pm | 27/09/10

      There is a very good book, slightly expensive, called decca, which is a collection of Jessica Mitford’s letters. The first part of the book gives a detailed history of the family and the letters provide insights to the individuals through Jessica’s eyes.

    • Tegan says:

      02:19pm | 27/09/10

      Thanks Malcolm, I’ll have a look for it.

    • Sam says:

      03:47pm | 27/09/10

      The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lowell is really good.

    • Miranda Murphy says:

      05:06pm | 27/09/10

      Yep, The Mitford Girls is a great introduction. Then you can get into the amazing writings of this bizarre collection of bluebloods. Mal, if you haven’t yet, get into The American Way of Death by Jessica - just thought she’d try her hand at a spot of investigative journalism. As for your parlour game, how does one uncover enough Mitford tragics? At least now I know where to find you…

    • iansand says:

      07:58pm | 27/09/10

      I have always assumed that Love in a Cold Climate and The Pursuit of Love are vaguely autobiographical.

    • hughie says:

      04:15pm | 27/09/10

      You renaissance man, Malcolm….

      Wouldn’t a movie about them now be deeply non-U now, in the same way the modern Brideshead movie was complete rubbish?

      Still they make a pleasant contrast to Lady Gaga or some other iGen “icon”.  Uggh.

    • stephen says:

      05:11pm | 27/09/10

      Lady Gaga can sing. She has a good, honest earthy voice. Right on-pitch, too.
      These Mitford dames did nothin except pretend eccentricity by marriage and elopements alone. Not a talented bone between them, except what extraversion and money couldn’t supply. Brainless twits, the lot of ‘em, and the reason some like to read them’s coz we ain’t game enough ter make such fools of ourselves.

    • jackie says:

      06:27pm | 27/09/10

      Oh Stephen, you poor misguided fool, that Lady Gaga person may be able to hold a tune but that & putting a steak on your head is not what it takes to make you an icon for generations. What the Mitford girls had was wit & charm, something the Gaga person lacks completley. They also had intellegence & individuality combined with the purpose to live their lives outside the strict conventions for women of their era.
      Whilst Ms Gaga always looks individual she is clearly contolled by PR execs & deranged stylists.

    • stephen says:

      09:52pm | 27/09/10

      Jackie, these Mitford ‘lassies’ were (and i mean this so succinctly), the ‘tail-end’ of Britain’s Victorian era. Corsets, lisps, and the sweep away of the hair at the merest mention of the lair. Huh !
      They pretend vague and disinterested (this word is the guise of the Romantic Poets, far and away their superior in everything except childbirth….wait, did these girls even get that done ?) Yes, but only clandestine, lest Daddy disguise the evidence.
      Sunny Britain and some film producers like to dig up these charlatans as new and naughty Royalty, quite apart from fact that at least two of them were a bloody nuisance for Britain’s War effort. Buy the books then, and study them, but I reckon our Paul Hogan has a better read comin’ : Pottery by the Everglades.

    • Jackie says:

      05:42pm | 27/09/10

      Quell suprise!! What a refreshing change from dull dull dull football news and sick-making politics, Malcolm what a dear gift to the cynical Punch audience!
      My pic for Nancy is that cute girl from St Trinians & some James Bond film but I cannot for the life of me recall her name…anyone? You know a bit cool but still twee..

    • bec says:

      07:17pm | 27/09/10

      Goodness no, not Gemma Arterton…

    • johanna says:

      11:56pm | 27/09/10

      Well, Mal, I always thought you were too bright to care about nothing but Parliamentary ping-pong.

      Since we are playing fantasy things, how about:

      Meryl Streep - for any role.

      Geoffrey Palmer - Dad.

      Then - Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Patty Duke, Elizabeth Taylor, ..oh what an anodyne and boring bunch of ‘stars’ we have today - maybe Jaimie Lee Curtis ...

 

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